On Saturday night at Wee Jasper, when fireworks explode in the crisp autumn air after dusk, Michelle Waters will shed a tear for her son Duncan.
The sighs of wonder from under showers of fiery sparks remind Michelle that Duncan’s legacy continues.
“He was just a boy’s boy, I suppose. He was one of the blokes,” Michelle says. “One of his best mates had a farm, they would be shooting, hunting,” she says. Duncan was in his second year of an apprenticeship as an air-conditioning technician when he died four years ago of testicular cancer. He was 20.
“He did not have a partner at the time, we believe if he was in a relationship this would not have happened, it would not have reached the stage it did,” Michelle says. Grief-stricken, his parents retreated to Wee Jasper, a little village south west of Yass named by a Scot who found tiny green gems there.
The Waters had begun managing five picturesque reserves between the Murrumbidgee and Goodradigbee rivers, Billy Grace, Fitzpatrick’s Trackhead, Swinging Bridge, Carey’s Reserve and Micalong.
At the end of May, when the nights turn wintery and the trout fishing nears an end, the change is like a year’s end for the Waters, who make sure Duncan’s legacy continues. Each May they have built large bonfires, set off fireworks and raised more than $60,000 for families struck by cancer.
Michelle says testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer for men aged 15 to 44, and the mortality rate is only 4 per cent.
This year’s bonfire and fireworks begins at 2 pm on Saturday May 18 at Billy Grace reserve, where two bands will play, the first from 5 pm, the second from 7 pm, with the fireworks in between.
Fireworks ACT presents the display, which Michelle says is amazing. “I was listening to the radio one afternoon in the car, they are skiting about Skyfire going for 18 minutes. Well, our display went for 15 minutes last year,” she says.
Food and coffee vans, jumping castle, sumo wrestlers and a DJ feed and entertain children and their families.
Last year, 1200 people attended. “The money goes back to families. It does not go to big administration costs,” Michelle says. “We know there is still no cure for cancer, but there are so many families out there who need help.”
Each year they donate money to families. Previously they also helped the Yass hospital auxiliary and CanAssist. Michelle says the event is not about the money, it is the ears that hear their message that counts, about adolescent males checking their testicles for a lump, which may indicate cancer.
“I have three boys,” Michelle says. “No one told them they had to check their bits. I was told from a young age to check my breasts. That is what we try and talk about, we talk about it on the night,” Michelle says.
After losing Duncan, the Waters retreated to their work managing the reserves and returned to Yass, where they were born and raised, to see their families. “We have had the best of both worlds over the last four-and-a-half years, but it was pretty tough without Duncan,” Michelle says.
Even in dry spells the rivers and trees create spectacular landscapes with red, orange, green and brown falling leaves and still reflections on clear pools of water. On bonfire night a reassuring ambience settles among people in their warm coats.
“We have the bonfire, people sitting around listening to music, watching the kids have fun. It is the old-fashioned bonfire and fireworks I remember as a kid, as against what we see on TV or a Skyfire event. The ground rumbles. As much as it is an amazing event, there is a lot of emotion involved too.
“We are blessed to be where we are, and to be able to do this,” says Michelle.
Entry is $5. Some people choose to camp overnight. Fees apply, and you should take cash because eftpos and ATMs are unavailable.